State housing programs took a major hit in November when Gov. Gray Davis cut $2 billion from the state's current fiscal year budget. The governor eliminated the Jobs-Housing Balance program and shifted the program's $60 million balance, which was leftover from the 2000-01 budget, to the state general fund. The program was intended to spur approval of housing development in areas with rapid job growth by providing grants to local governments (see CP&DR, November 2001).
The governor also cut half of the $89 million multi-family housing loan program. And Davis eliminated the Downtown Rebound Program, which provided money to plan infill development and conversion of industrial and commercial buildings to residential use. Davis also shifted the Downtown Rebound Program's $4.1 million to the general fund.
In a letter to state officials, Davis said "the extraordinarily rapid decline in state revenues" requires the spending cuts. The Legislature is scheduled to consider the budget revisions during a special session in January.
The proposed restoration of the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach advanced in November when the Coastal Commission approved a plan by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to carve a 360-foot-wide inlet through Bolsa Chica State Beach to re-create a tidal basin.
Hunters cut off the marsh from the ocean a century ago to create better hunting grounds. Since then, Bolsa Chica's marsh and mud flats have become unhealthy and polluted. Wildlife experts say the restored 1,200-acre site, which includes oil wells, would support a wide variety of species, including the endangered western snowy plover and the least tern.
The project appeared stymied when Caltrans said that it would need to build a six-lane bridge over the new inlet. Coastal Commission planners refused to support such a large bridge. But only days before the Commission's November meeting, Caltrans said it could live with a four-lane bridge. Approximately $100 million of restoration work jointly funded by the federal and state governments is scheduled to begin in 2003.
Also in November, the state Historic Resources Commission voted to designate 18 acres of Bolsa Chica mesa, which lies above the wetlands, as an historic site because of the American Indian village and burial ground found there. Hearthside Homes, which plans to build 387 houses on the mesa, said it would not agree to the listing, which must be decided by the National Register of Historic Places.
Californians appear at least somewhat troubled by growth and development, according to a poll released in November by the Public Policy Institute of California and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Asked if they would vote for a local initiative to slow the pace of development, even if it mean less economic growth, 55% of respondents said yes. Support for slowing development was highest in the Bay Area (60%) and lowest in the Central Valley (48%). Traffic congestion and affordable housing availability were the two largest land use concerns identified by respondents, with Bay Area residents seeing the biggest problems. However, 10% fewer people identified traffic congestion and affordable housing as concerns in this poll than in a similar survey released in May.
About two-thirds of people conceded they had not heard of the terms "sprawl" or "smart growth." The vast majority (84%) said they want to live in a detached, single-family dwelling, although 32% said they would live in multi-story, multi-family housing if it meant they could walk to shops, schools and transit.
The survey is available on the PPIC website, www.ppic.org
A Los Angeles County planner who issued hundreds of potentially invalid certificates of compliance is being investigated by the District Attorney's office, the Los Angeles Times reported in November.
Emmet Taylor, whom the county fired last year, is suspected of accepting bribes to approve the certificates of compliance, which legitimize parcels that were created decades earlier with few or no standards. Earlier this year the county began reviewing about 1,300 certificates of compliance issued since 1995 and found that many were invalid. Much of the land involved lies in northern Los Angeles County. Taylor has denied wrongdoing and continues to fight his dismissal.
Three Los Angeles business groups issued a report in late October calling for the City of Los Angeles to overhaul its development policies so that 60,000 housing units get built during the next five years. That was the fare share housing allocation the Southern California Association of Governments assigned to Los Angeles.
The position paper from the Building Industry Association, the Central City Association and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association rejects affordable housing programs such as inclusionary zoning for affordable units, in-lieu fees paid by housing developers, and linkage fees paid by commercial builders. Instead, the groups call for "real time" subsidies, fee deferrals, a "by-right" approval process and creation of "housing opportunity zones." The paper suggests that the city's housing policies have caused developers to avoid high-density projects, and that overcrowded conditions have caused the middle-class to move elsewhere.
The California Energy Commission has decided to let power plants developed on an expedited basis run for up to 30 years under relaxed emission standards. The commission will allow power plants that are approved by this month and running by September 2002 to operate on simple-cycle turbines, rather than more efficient — but more expensive — combined cycle turbines.
When the Energy Commission began fast-track approval of power plants a year ago, it allowed some new plants to install simple-cycle turbines under the condition that they be replaced within two years (see CP&DR, July 2001). Environmentalists and state officials disagree about how many plants could operate long-term under the relaxed standards. Litigation appears likely.
A Fresno County coalition of governments, farmers, builders and businesses has issued a report called "Livable Neighborhood Development" that endorses many New Urbanist concepts.
Three years ago, the Growth Alternatives Alliance produced "A Landscape of Choice," a report that urged compact development of existing communities and preservation of farmland. The follow-up report goes one step further by outlining preferred styles of development. The report calls for "walkable neighborhoods," zoning flexibility, mixed-use districts and commercial villages.
Fresno County and all of its cities eventually endorsed the Landscape of Choice report, and initial reaction to Livable Neighborhood Development was favorable.
The Cal-Fed Bay Delta project will receive $30 million in federal funding this fiscal year. The House of Representatives, which initially refused to fund the program at all, and the Senate agreed on the amount in November but tightly controlled how the money gets spent.
The appropriation emphasizes water storage over environmental restoration. Specifically included is money to study enlarging Shasta Dam near Redding and Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County. Studying the proposed Sites Reservoir in the hills of Glenn County also is included.
Environmentalists complained that the allocation ignores important restoration work. The federal government did not fund Cal-Fed at all in 2001.
The City of Oceanside, in northern San Diego County, has eliminated in-lieu fees for affordable housing. Instead, the city will require housing developers to dedicate 10% of units within a project for low-income people. If the developer provides the affordable units off-site, then a number equal to 15% of the project must be offered for low-income residents.
The city has collected about $3 million of in-lieu fees over the years but has never built any homes. Councilmembers said the city itself should not be responsible for building dwellings.
Santa Clara County's Valley Transportation Authority has agreed to provide up to $48 million annually to operate a proposed extension of BART to San Jose. The decision, which the BART board endorsed in mid-November, removes a major hurdle to extending BART from its current terminus in Fremont to downtown San Jose and the airport.
Operating funds could eventually come from a variety of places, such as higher sales taxes, higher gas taxes or increased ticket fares. But as none of those revenues are guaranteed, the BART board wanted assurances someone would fund operation of the extension. The VTA pledged a portion of quarter-cent sales tax revenues it now receives for transit, although it might never have to spend the money.
Operation of the BART extension to Santa Clara County is still about 10 years away.